Blame It on the Rain

Live Theatre Workshop's production of 'The Rainmaker' brings a smile to the face.

The Rainmaker, N. Richard Nash's 50-year-old fable about faith and fakery, brings a warm, slow drizzle of good feeling into any theater.

It's hardly a downpour of wisdom and wit, though. The dialog isn't nearly as poetic as Nash probably intended, and the playwright's method of navigating characters through the final scenes is as rough as a washed-out road. Right now, Live Theatre Workshop and director Jeremy Thompson manage to work around the play's limitations without quite overcoming them, and deliver a mostly sunny production of this pleasant comedy-romance.

Drought has stricken not only the town of Three Point, Mo., but the love life of Lizzie Curry. Lizzie hasn't been kissed since elementary school, on a dare, and now she's looking down a short, straight road to spinsterhood. As her well-meaning father and brothers analyze it, Lizzie is too smart and plainspoken for her own good--she "doesn't know how to get along" in a time (the Depression) and place where young women snag husbands through featherbrained flirtation. "If that's the way a man gets got," she objects, "I don't want any of them."

Her eye, though, has drifted in the direction of the ironically named Deputy File; File has jailed himself in his own morose nature, while every other creature in his life has escaped him. The Curry men would love to marry off Lizzie to File, before it's too late for her to find anyone else, but an absolute lack of self-confidence traps each in dusty, lonely solitude.

Then, one parched August night, a con man named Starbuck blows through the Currys' front door. He vows to save the Curry ranch from drought by whomping up any variety of rainfall they choose, for the sum of $100. While he's there, he just might drop some personal precipitation on Lizzie as well.

The success of The Rainmaker hinges on the casting of Lizzie and Starbuck. Live Theatre Workshop has an excellent Lizzie in Holli Henderson. In her past LTW performances (under the name Holli Thenhaus), Henderson has often been a dynamo of emotion and physical activity, particularly in The Miss Firecracker Contest last November. Her portrayal of Lizzie is quite different--subtle, sensible, at times even lyrical. She doesn't seem quite uncomfortable enough in a pretty dress, though. Lizzie truly believes herself to be plain, thanks largely to the subtle messages sent over the years by her brothers, but we don't get a physical sense of this. As in Miss Firecracker, Henderson is mildly miscast insofar as she's too attractive for anyone to believe for a moment that she could be taken for a plain Jane.

Matt Walley's Starbuck has a great deal of potential that wasn't fully realized on opening night. A couple of tiny line flubs impeded what should have been a flash flood of glibness, and some of his early moments weren't sufficiently Barnumesque. But Walley seems likely to settle comfortably into the role as the run progresses, and he already conveys Starbuck's hidden self-doubt touchingly.

Stephen Frankenfield maintains a delicate balance as brother Noah, the one Curry who's determined to save his family from its emotional gulleywashers. Frankenfield makes Noah's assessments of his siblings harshly frank but not mean-spirited; he's the play's antagonist, but not a villain. As younger brother Jimmy, Rick Windon is all impulse and hormones, a naïve goofball but not an idiot.

Bruce Bieszki properly maintains his emotional distance as family patriarch H.C., an endlessly patient and ostensibly wise observer given to aphoristic comments. Brian Wees is an appealingly gangly and distracted File, and John Mills does well with what little the role of the sheriff offers him.

In the end, Starbuck is a Wizard of Oz figure, certifying that people already have the qualities they believe they lack. Once this pluvial confidence man descends upon the Curry family, we realize it's not such a bad thing that into each life some rain must fall.

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